A new band from Bay Area punk veterans — with members of Green Day and Jawbreaker — wants to earn your fandom on its own terms
Of course, certain things, like this new project, have the benefit of being able to attach the words "Ex-Jawbreaker/Green Day" to a flier or listing, as the Rickshaw Stop has advertised California's April 24 show — the band's third official outing — though Pfahler's a bit uncomfortable with using his star power that way. Hopefully, he says, the band will be earning that buzz on its own soon enough.
After all, California, a three-piece, is something of a Bay Area punk supergroup: On guitar and vocals you have Green Day's Jason White, who, despite having played lead guitar on the band's tours for the past decade or so, only "officially" became a member in 2012; he also shares guitar and vocal duties with Billie Joe Armstrong in the long-running side project (and supergroup of its own, in a way) Pinhead Gunpowder. Bass and backup vocals are courtesy of Dustin Clark of The Insides; Pfahler is on drums.
"I'd kind of been starting to do stuff under my own name in 2011, just to try writing my own songs again," says White, noting that Green Day is on an "indefinite break" — though he did just get off the phone with Armstrong, who called to tell him about how crazy it was to play with the Replacements at Coachella the previous night. (White, with a laugh: "I hadn't wanted to go at all but now I'm super jealous, and bummed that I wasn't there.")
White started playing out acoustically about three years ago, at places like the Hotel Utah. When he was asked to play a friend's 40th birthday party, he invited Clark to play bass; Clark asked Pfahler, whom he'd been playing with (they're old friends — also SF experimental rockers Erase Errata, featuring Clark's wife, Bianca Sparta, on drums, used to play in the basement of Lost Weekend). All three are veterans of the scene; all three were excited about trying something new.
"I'm at a place where I just want to try any and everything, stretch out on my own, experiment with some different ideas," says White, who says he's also a huge Jawbreaker fan. "And all three of us have pretty distinct individual tastes, which has made for a really nice mix of the three, I think."
California at the Hemlock Tavern earlier this month. Photo by Greg Schneider.
There's no music online for fans to listen to or buy just yet — and thanks to a name cribbed from a novella by Pfahler's friend, the writer Amra Brooks, the band's virtually un-Googlable — but a handful of demos they've recorded suggest a leaning toward the poppier end of the spectrum than you might expect from these three. White's vocals are clean, earnest, not trying too hard to be too much, reminiscent of the Promise Ring, or of the days (day?) before "emo" became code for whiny and tossed around like a dirty word; tight, punchy, early Green Day-esque bridges and hooks are grounded, kept from being overly sugary by the heft of the rhythm section.